Wednesday, February 06, 2008
There's a quote by Mother Theresa that says, "in order to understand poverty, you have to live with the poor." (it's not an exact quote, but it's something like that).
I met a man last Thursday who lives in his little black toyota pickup. Steve and I had some blankets and food from the Homeless Count we were helping with so we knocked on his little canopy window that dark snowy night. There were tarp curtains drawn on the canopy windows so when the truck began moving a bit, I took a nervous step back. No need to. He was a lovely man. He didn't need any food, but thought a blanket would be awfully nice. We gave him 3 because they were thin and we had extras. I went home to a big house in a lovely neighborhood, queen sized bed, hot bath.
...in order to understand poverty, you must live with the poor...
We met others that day who live in motel rooms and others in RV parks...not mobile homes, not "manufactured housing". RVs. The things you and I take camping one weekend a year and tell ourselves we're "roughing it". They had them all boarded up around the wheels. Steve says it helps keep the cold out. Really?
These are things that occupy my thoughts these days. I very much enjoyed our brief visit with the black pickup truck guy. He's a veteran. Lost 40 friends to violent deaths and saw orphans that he was trying to help bombed. Now he struggles keeping a job because he is dyslexic and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His last manager pulled a gun on a co-worker, and even though it was a pellet gun and a sort of tasteless joke, it sent him reeling...flashbacks and all that. And I guess his two grand-daughters died in a house fire and when he was walking downtown there was a manequin in a window that looked like one of them and stuff like that makes it hard for him to cope too. He had a bed at a shelter once, but they put him with a roommate who was cutting himself and bleeding all over the place and that was making him have flashbacks and he decided he just couldn't stay around it. I wonder if his children out east know dad lives in a truck in the snow.
What would it mean to live with the poor in affluent America? Would it be any harder or easier a choice than it was for Mother Teresa in Calcutta? We are such intelligent creatures, aren't we? We make really fantastic arguments about our money and lifestyles. "If I concentrate on my business and building my empire then I can retire early and then I'll have the money to help the poor and can be so much more effective than if I lived with them now." It's such a safe argument. Don't get me wrong, that's the argument I use. But then, Steve's argument is so much more logical. We were in the RV park and I looked around and asked, "can you imagine living like this?" He paused for a minute and said, "I think so. Think about it. You could sell your house and buy one of these babies outright. You'd still have your job, but no mortgage and so you'd have money to help the poor. But the poor wouldn't be someone you had to go looking for...they would be the next door neighbor that you love." Shoots a hole in my intelligence (chuckle). And what keeps digging at my gut is the fact that Jesus' way was closer to Steve's than mine. Really...go look. Read Matthew. He lived just like the poor, not knowing where he would sleep or where his meals would come from next. He was homeless, penniless, but not sorrowfully penniless. He was poor on PURPOSE. huh. makes ya think doesn't it? He was poor for the purpose of initiating a new era, a new kingship, a new paradigm. His purpose was to introduce us to a new kingdom that doesn't rise and fall on a dollar sign, but on love.
A kingdom whose currency is love.
Mother Teresa also said these things, and they encourage me.
"Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired."
"God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try."
"I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?"
I don't know if I have greatness in me, but I do know how to grab onto love for another like a bullmastiff who won't let go.
Sometimes I think I'll never be a success at anything I set my hand to, but I'll definitely be able to stand before my savior and say I tried.
My 75 year old neighbor loves corvettes and bowling. And if living with the poor in an RV park is too much of a stretch for me today, then I guess at least for now I can bowl. No (chuckle),that's not true...I can ask Bob to teach me to bowl. And maybe that's something. Maybe that's a little currency in a kingdom we haven't taken a hold of yet.
"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." Revelation 3:18